Description: Faith isn't an assent to a doctrine or belief - it's a complete day to day acknowledgement of God working in our lives (whether we can see or feel it). Our part of faith is to step out in action using what his Holy Spirit has asked us to do.
The Christian’s Ministry
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Will you turn please to Romans 1:9 in your Bibles? Romans 1:9 reads, “For God is my witness, whom I
serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son.” This is the third Sunday that we’ve talked about
the ministry of the Christian and the third Sunday that we’ve spent on this verse and I think God
has insisted on us doing this now because there is so much bewilderment today about the ministry of
Christians. Even Pastors are having difficulty distinguishing between their ministry and the
ministry of a social worker, or their ministry and the ministry of a psychiatrist.
I think many Priests and many Sisters in the Catholic Church are having the same problem, so there
has been a great falling away into what we call secular occupations because of this failure to
distinguish what is significant in the ministry of a Christian. I think it has entered even the
lives of those of us who are lay people because we have begun to wonder, “Well, what makes me
different in my Christian ministry as a doctor?” “What makes me different in my Christian ministry
as a nurse?” ‘What makes my ministry as a teacher significantly different from other non-Christian
teachers?” I think throughout all Christendom there is this bewilderment about what is significant
and what is special about the ministry of the Christian.
Let’s look briefly at the three significant characteristics that we find about the ministry of a
Christian and we’ll find some examples in the life of Philip. Perhaps you’d turn to Acts 6:2-5. I
think it’s first of all important to see that Philip was a layman, he was not a full time minister
as we think he was, “And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right
that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out
from you among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint
to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what
they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy
Spirit, and Philip.” They also chose five others and appointed them deacons.
God saw how anxious they were to have a clerical class on one side and deacons on the other and he
upset their plans because he started to use Philip mightily. So Philip was a layman. Then will you
look at how he was used in Acts 8:6-7, “And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was
said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of
many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.”
The center of Philip’s ministry as a Christian was the work that God was doing among the people.
In other words, they didn’t listen to him just because of the things he said but because of the
signs that were done among them, “For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying
with a loud voice; and many were healed.” In other words, the central feature of the ministry of a
Christian is the work that God is doing in other people’s hearts. You remember that we emphasized
that a Christian is not called to do God’s work, God alone can do God’s work. God alone can heal,
God alone can convert, but the ministry of the Christian is based on the work that God is doing in
Would you look at Acts 8:8, “So there was much joy in that city.” And no doubt many people said,
“Philip, you must stay on and we’ll have a mighty revival here. We thank God for all that he has
done through you, so stay on because there’s much joy in the city and there can be greater joy
still.” And then in verse 26, “But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the
south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert road.” A Christian
serves God not people. Philip was not so bound to the people among whom he had ministered that he
stayed with them even though they probably pleaded with him to do that, but he served God.
The ministry of a Christian is service to God first and foremost, not service to man. It’s service
to God; their desire is to obey God and to please God, the things they incidentally do for other
people are really side issues. They’re simply side shoots of the service that they are performing
to God. But they’re not serving men, they’re serving God.
The third characteristic that I think we should know is in Acts 8:29, “And the Spirit said to
Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’” And then I think again in verse 39, you can see the same
thing repeated, “And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip.”
Philip ministered with the spirit. He served God with the spirit. That’s what Paul says back in
Romans 1, “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit.”
Now those are the characteristics of your ministry as a Christian. So if you’re a nurse, you are,
in our terminology, a lay woman, but you’re asked to do nothing less than Philip did because he was
a layman. Now first of all, your ministry as a Christian nurse depends on the work that God is
doing in the hearts of the nurses and doctors and patients with whom you work. In other words, you
can have no ministry as a Christian unless God is either awakening them to their unlikeness to
Jesus, or convicting them of certain things that are wrong in their own lives, or regenerating them
and making them new Christians, or he’s cleansing their hearts by the Holy Spirit, or he’s moving
them on out in the power of the Spirit. Unless God is working in some way in the hearts of your
patients, your doctors, or your nurses, then you have no ministry. So you depend on the work that
God is doing in the hearts of the people with whom you come in contact day-by-day.
Now be assured dear ones, the spirit of man is in an arena where something always happens. Either a
person is giving more and more to God, or a person is giving more and more to the power of evil in
the world. Something is happening in the hearts of your patients; they’re either going a little
more towards their complacency and a little away from God, or they’re becoming more aware of God and
his reality and they’re drawing towards him, but something is happening in the hearts of those with
whom you are dealing. That is the central feature of your ministry as a Christian; that God is
doing some work in those people’s hearts.
The second feature is that you’re serving God; you’re not serving that dreadful head nurse that
tears you apart. You’re not serving the hospital that has dealt nicely with you therefore you think
you’ll stay with them next year. You’re serving God and you do what God tells you to do in that
hospital. You stay as long as God tells you to stay. You do what God tells you to do with the
patients. You say what God tells you to say, but you’re serving God and your desire is to please
him by what you do, not to please the head nurse, not to please the doctor or the patient, but to
please God and therefore to do the best for all these other dear ones. Thirdly you serve God with
the spirit and we’re going to try to talk about that today, what it means to serve God with the
spirit, but suffice it to say that you don’t serve him with your own cleverness, you serve him with
the spirit that he has implanted in you.
I think it’s important to see that those three things apply to those of us who try to perform a
specifically Christian ministry in our ordinary job. Now you may say, “Well, why serve him with the
spirit?” Because every work that God does in a person’s heart is like an operation. He brings them
into the operating room and he decides what is needed: maybe it’s a mother and it’s the birth of a
new Christian, so he’s bringing a new Christian into life. Or it’s a Christian that needs some part
of him amputated; maybe some jealousy that needs to be cast away or maybe it’s a car of which
they’re too fond. Maybe it’s a certain job that they won’t give up even though God is asking them.
It’s an amputation that God has to perform in the operating room of their spirit. Or maybe it’s a
heart transplant, maybe they need a new heart given to them by the Holy Spirit and God wants to do
this operation at once.
Now he has lots of assistants — all of us. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:9 that it is God’s work
that counts, but in verse 9, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
Or you are the sphere in which God is operating, but we are fellow workers for God. In other
words, gathered around every heart that God is trying to operate on are many people like you and me;
we are his fellow workers.
Now how do you know when he wants a swab or when he wants scissors? How do you know when he wants
you to hold this at this time — only because his Spirit directs you to do the right thing at the
right time for his dear ones. This is why we have to serve God according to the spirit. Now, you
can stand there and while the surgeon is operating you can use your own mind and say, “Now, what
about this? Do you want to do something with this? No?” You can imagine the chaos and disorder if
that happened. When we try to serve God with the mind or the intellect that’s what we’re doing;
we’re only suggesting to him something else that he should be doing with this dear one. Instead, we
should be guided by his Spirit to do the right thing with this dear one at the right time.
You may be called upon to speak a certain word to a Doctor on your floor. You may be called upon to
say a certain thing to someone in your classroom. You must be in touch with God’s Spirit so he can
tell you this. You say, “Why?” Well, it’s stated in I Corinthians 2:11b that this is the way God
directs his fellow workers. In other words you may say, “Ah, but sometimes I don’t know what the
surgeon wants; sometimes I don’t know what God wants me to do.” Well, here’s the answer, “So also
no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
The Spirit of God knows what God wants done at that moment; look at verse 10a, “God has revealed to
us through the Spirit. “ In other words, God tells you what to do in your Christian ministry
through your spirit. His Spirit communicates with your spirit. That’s why it’s so vital to serve
God with the spirit. I think it’s important to see that there is a distinction made in the Bible
between God’s Spirit and our spirits. Would you like to look at it in Romans 8:16, I think many
people feel that there’s just one spirit. Well, no there isn’t. There’s a distinction made in our
English language by the capital letter S. Romans 8:16, “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness
with our spirit,” our spirit has a small s and God’s Spirit has a capital S. In other words, it’s
through God’s Spirit impressing our spirits that we know what to do in our Christian ministry, and
it’s only that way, dear ones.
Now I think many of us are a bit glib about this word spirit. We say, “You just serve God with the
spirit, that means serve God with your soul.” But the Bible emphasizes this word spirit very often.
In several places, as we noticed last Sunday, you’re urged to pray with the spirit. Now, why is he
saying, “Pray with the spirit?” Is he is just saying pray religiously? No, every word in the Bible
has a meaning. He says, “Pray with the spirit.” In another place he says, “God is a Spirit and you
must worship him in spirit.” And in this place in Romans it says, “You must serve him with the
Now what does it mean to serve God with the spirit? Well, do you see the spirit is different from
the soul? 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your
spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The
Bible sometimes mentions those three parts of us: the body, the soul, and the spirit. In other
words, it’s vital to distinguish between the soul and the spirit in our Christian ministry.
Many of us are falling back into self-centeredness in our ministry as Christians because we’re not
distinguishing between the soul and the spirit. Many of us are having failure in our Christian
witnessing because we have no idea of the difference between the soul and the spirit. Will you look
with me at one verse in the Bible that states categorically that it is essential to distinguish
between the soul and the spirit, it’s Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit.”
Now it wouldn’t pierce to the division of soul and spirit unless it was necessary to make a
distinction between the soul and the spirit. But in the Christian life it’s not enough to be
forgiven your sins. It’s not enough to have your heart and your inward jealousy and envy and
irritability cleansed by the Holy Spirit, it’s not enough to be filled with the power of the Holy
Spirit, but you must have your soul divided from your spirit so that you serve with the spirit and
not with the soul.
Let’s get down to deciding just what the soul is. Most of us think about it in terms of Revelation
20:4. We think of the soul as the part of us that will live after the body dies, “Then I saw
thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of
those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not
worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.”
In other words, we normally think of our soul as the part of us that lives after the body dies, but
the Bible says more about the soul than that. Let me show you what I mean; would you turn to 2
Peter 2:7-8, “And if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the
wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his
righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds).” The soul was the part of Lot that felt
distressed. In other words, when the Bible uses soul it means your emotions, for one thing, your
emotional nature — that’s one of the vital parts of the soul.
Another reference that will take us to another part of the soul is Psalms 119:167. “My soul keeps
thy testimonies; I love them exceedingly.” “My soul keeps thy testimonies.” God’s testimonies are
his commandments and it really means I am keeping your commandments. The part of you that keeps
God’s commandments is your will. So part of the soul as it’s talked about in the Bible is your
will. Whenever the Bible talks about soul, one of the things it’s talking about is your own human
will. So the soul consists of the emotions and it consists of the will.
Then if you’ll look at the third reference in Deuteronomy 11:18 there is revealed to us another part
of the soul, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you
shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” “You
shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul.” Now, you can’t lay up words
anywhere but in your memory and your mind. That is where you remember things and where you remember
the things that you have to do.
In other words dear ones, the soul consists of the mind, the will, and the emotions; those three
things; the Bible divides us into three parts. In 1 Thessalonians 5:3, the spirit wears the soul
and the soul wears the body and God commands us to serve not with the soul but with the spirit. He
commands us not to worship with our emotions, or our minds, or our will, but to worship with our
Now this is what distinguishes a lot of what we call emotional Christianity from real Christianity.
When God begins to get you to deal with your spirit and serve with your spirit, then you enter into
spiritual Christianity. Many of us are serving God all the time with our minds or our emotions or
our wills, but not with our spirits. So we get into some situation and we start working out with
our minds what should happen here. “The walls of Jericho — ah, dynamite is a possibility!” And we
decide, “Well no, we’ll try something else” and we try to serve God with our minds. Or we get into
a certain situation where we need to witness to someone and we decide we must reveal to them how
joyful Christianity is so we generate a lot of emotional enthusiasm and we give them all that and a
whole spiel about what life is like in Christ, but we give it with the power of our emotion and not
with our spirit and it comes over to them as a hard sell; it does not come over to them as Christ.
It’s vital, in other words, to realize that we need to start serving God with our spirit and not
with our mind or our emotions. Many of us are eager to serve him with our minds. We’re eager to
work out what he needs to do in this church so we think “You need, first of all, a good visitation
campaign going and you need a bigger building. Let’s tear all this down and get a bigger building.
Then you need an attractive frontage there so that people will be attracted to it” and the mind
starts to serve God. But we’re called upon in our Christian ministry to serve God with our spirits,
not with our minds.
Could I just give you three illustrations and then we’ll finish and next Sunday I’ll try and show
how God distinguishes for you between your soul and your spirit and he can. God is anxious to show
you when you’re serving him with your soul and when you’re serving him with your spirit, there is a
way in which he does it and I’d like to try to explain it to you as God gives me light in his word.
I went to my first church and decided that what we needed was Bible study groups. I thought that
people weren’t studying the Bible enough, that they needed to know more Christian doctrine. So I
organized six Bible study groups and had 10 people in each and handed out question sheets such as we
use as a rough guide in our Sunday morning Bible study. So I had six Bible study groups going every
week and I led each one of them myself for an hour each week and nothing was happening. Everybody
thought the Bible study group was good, but nobody’s life was changing. There was no spiritual work
being done in anybody’s heart, because I had worked that out with my own mind.
I had not done what God’s Spirit had told me to do; I had tried to work out what is best for this
church. Again and again I was guilty of what I explained to you; I was so eager for people to enter
into the glory of life in Jesus that I would generate my own emotional enthusiasm, instead of
serving him with my spirit and it kept them from seeing Jesus. Again and again I got into
situations where I wasn’t too keen to preach a certain sermon but I went forward and said, “Well,
I’ll will myself to preach that sermon and I’ll do it.” I didn’t serve God with my spirit; I served
him with my will, so there was no blessing that came to anyone else.
Now do you see dear ones, there’s a real difference between serving God with what is the human part
of you, your soul, and serving him with your spirit? Next Sunday I hope that God will show us why
psychology is so limited in its effect on personality, because psychology deals with the soul,
whereas God deals with the spirit. But meanwhile dear ones, in this coming week, will you ask God
to help you to see where you’re serving him with your soul; with your mind, with your emotions and
with your will instead of with your spirit?
Let us pray.
Holy Spirit, will you implant the truths of these words in our hearts and in our spirits so that we
ourselves may become effective Christian witnesses, something beyond church goers, something beyond
just good people so that we’ll become co-workers for you. We ask you this in the name, and for the
sake of, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with
each one of us now and ever more. Amen.